is typically used by some to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), and gallbladder disorders. The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Nursing Research are also studying Milk Thistle
for cancer prevention.
The United States National Library of Medicine has catalogued more than 300 scientific studies of Milk Thistle
and its active compounds in their medicine database.
liver supporting effect has been attributed to the antioxidant and free-radical scavenging properties of its flavonoid constituents – silymarin and silybin. Specifically, silymarin is a bioflavonoid complex that is actually a mixture of 3 flavanolignans, and is considered by some to be among the most potent liver protective substances available.
Silymarin's ability to support the liver destruction and enhancing liver function relates largely to its ability to inhibit factors responsible for liver damage (such as free radicals) coupled with an ability to stimulate liver protein synthesis.
Based on current research on the antioxidant properties of Milk Thistle
, it may effectively minimize some of the adverse effects of alcoholic liver cirrhosis. Milk Thistle
is reported to be an anti-inflammatory and cell stabilizer that helps protect the liver against toxins, drugs and the effects of alcohol.
For example, silymarin increases the body’s supply of glutathione, an all purpose antioxidant and detoxifier produced in the liver. It even helps to regenerate injured liver cells.
Might the Europeans be on to something? In some European countries, Milk Thistle
extract is used as a prescription medicine to treat alcoholic cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis and alcohol-induced liver damage. For example, a German advisory panel established by the German Health Authorities (equivalent to the FDA in the U.S.) describes Milk Thistle
extracts standardized to at least 70% silymarin as supportive against toxic liver damage and chronic inflammatory liver disease. 
In fact, silymarin drugs and Milk Thistle
standardized extracts can only be purchased in Germany at pharmacies with a doctor's prescription for liver problems.
2. Hikino, H. Kiso, Y., Wagner, H. and Fiegig, M., "Antihepatotoxic actions of flavonolignans from Silybum marianum
fruits", Planta Medica, 1984, 50, pp 248-50
3. Vogel, G., Trost, W., Braatz, R., et al., "Studies on pharmacodynamics, site and mechanism of action of silymarin
the antihpatotoxic principle from Silybum marianum (L.) Gaert"., Arzneim-Forsch, 1975, 25, pp 179-85
4. Wagner, H., Antihepatotoxic flavonoids", in Cody, V., Middleton, E. and Harbourne, J.D. (eds), Plant flavinoids in
Biology and Medicine: Biochemical, Pharmacological and Structure-Activity relationships, Alan R. Liss, New York, NY
5. Wagner, H., "Plant constituents with antihepatotoxic activity", in Beal, J.L. and Reinhard, E. (eds) Natural Products
as Medicinal Agents, Hippokrates-Verlang, Stuttgart, 1981
6. Saller, R., R. Meier, & R. Brignoli. 2001. The use of silymarin in the treatment of liver diseases. Drugs 61(41):
7. Ferenci P, Dragosics B, Dittrich H, et al. Randomized controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis
of the liver. J Hepatol 1989;9(1):105-113.
8. McCaleb, Rob "Milk Thistle - An Herbal Detoxifier", Better Nutrition for Today's Living, March 1993.
9. Sonnenbichler J, Zetl I. Stimulating influence of a flavonolignan derivative on proliferation, RNA synthesis and
protein synthesis in liver cells. In Assessment and Management of Hepatobiliary Disease, ed. L Okolicsanyi, G
Csomos, G Crepaldi. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1987, 265-72.
10. Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin: 1998:169-170.